women without men would be nothing
This sentence was given to me when I was studying linguistics long, long ago and since then I have seen it pop up in a few different places. What? It’s sexist? Yes, it is … but to men or women? Depends on what you do with it! More than anything it’s an exercise that demonstrates the importance of punctuation. Oscar Wilde famously reflected on a day’s work:
This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.
The ever popular exclamation marks and question marks, the more obscure semi-colons and much abused ellipses – these funny little marks are just as important as the words you choose to use in your work.
Write out the sentence and add your punctuation. What do you end up with? It’s likely a variation of the following:
Women, without men, would be nothing.
Women: without, men would be nothing.
See what I did there? Punctuation is so very important in writing because it gives expression and can change meaning. When we talk we have tone that can carry across the meanings of our words – when we write, we have punctuation.
Now that we’ve cleared up some of the mistreated words in the English language we’re going to examine punctuation. After all, where would we – as writers – be without expression?